About 30 miles upriver from the spot where the Intracoastal Waterway crosses the Pamlico River lays the town of Washington, NC. For the many boaters that speed south to reach their winter destinations, missing these side trips is a shame. We have been just as guilty in the past, but decided that on this transit of the ICW, we would stop and smell the fish fry. The Pamlico can be daunting and a careful eye on the weather is required. The payoff to visiting this well protected harbor and yet another historic site along the North Carolina waterway is more than worth the additional time and miles.
The Washington Harbor entrance is marked by a very old railroad bridge that is always open unless a train is coming. The channel is narrow, and once inside the harbor it’s best to call the town dock Harbormaster on VHF Channel 16 for docking instructions and slip assignment. There are two options for staying at the town dock. One is the free docks along the lovely promenade and park that lines the harbor. Docks G through K are side ties and we stayed on G dock which was reported to have the shallowest water. We found 14 feet on approach and 7-8 feet alongside. There are no tides to speak of, but the winds from one direction or another for prolonged periods can raise and lower the water levels. The second option available is to take one of the slips at the other docks which have power and water. Those slips are rented at $1.00 per foot per day plus $3.00 per day for 30 amp and $6.00 per day for 50 amp service. Water is included on the paying docks but not on the free docks. Free docking is good for 48 hours, but if you want to stay longer, the charge is 75 cents per foot per day.
The Dockmaster was on the dock ready to assist us as we arrived. The harbor is well protected from all directions and docking was straightforward and easy. Once the boat was secured, the Dockmaster filled out a simple form to register us and gave us a brief rundown on what to find in the area, along with a warm welcome. A very nice brick walkway runs along the seawall and is very popular with friendly local folks that always took the time to wave and say hello. A few even stopped to chat a while. There are restrooms attached to the park near the free docks, however they are locked in the evening. The showers and restrooms for the docks are a long walk down the promenade and are located in a trailer behind the Dockmaster’s office. They are accessed by a code provided by the Dockmaster, so are available at any time.
It wasn’t long before we were off exploring this quaint river town. Our first discovery was Scoops Ice Cream & Candy near the waterfront. Several of the shops and restaurants back up to the waterfront with an entrance there as well a front entrance on Main Street. It was a little sad to see so many storefronts and shops closed and empty. This seems to be a fact of life in many of these small towns. Washington appears to have been hit rather hard. There are still many interesting stores and restaurants to spend your time and money. We sampled the cuisine at Down On Mainstreet, directly across the street and parking lot from the boat and also visited a number of shops downtown including Nautilife, with its nautical themed gifts, River Walk Gallery and Arts Center, with great pottery items and paintings by local artists and Little Shoppes, a large building containing 20 little individual vendors all under one roof. It was impossible to walk away without making a few purchases for Christmas gifts.
Just north of the docks is the North Carolina Estuarium. The Pamlico/Tar River Estuary is second only in size in the U.S. to the Chesapeake Bay. The Estuarium provides an educational experience highlighting the importance of this vital body of water. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A boardwalk begins just behind the Estuarium just where the brick promenade ends. One can then walk the boardwalk the entire distance up to the railroad bridge ending up on Main Street. Just around the corner to the right you will spy a bright red building housing the Coffee Caboose, open for breakfast and lunch. If you head back down Main Street toward the docks, you will then find the Blue Door Café and the Panaderia next door, a Mexican bakery. Our friends on S/V Casual Class gave both of the latter a thumbs up. Any serious provisioning will require a bike or cab ride of a couple of miles as there is nothing near the downtown area.
A 2-3 hour trip back down the Pamlico brought us to the entrance to Bath Creek. It is well marked by G “1” and immediately followed by R “2.” Then head north up the creek to G “3” followed shortly thereafter by R “4.” Near the fixed bridge with 13 feet of clearance you will see a small marina with a number of smaller sailboats. Just before you reach the marina you will see a long dock with a T-head marked with a green sign reading “State Dock.” Depths at the creek entrance were approximately 14 feet and continued with adequate depths all the way to the dock. The depths at the end of the dock were 7.5 feet while depths halfway down the dock where Beach House tied were about 6 feet. As with Washington, depths can vary here with any significant winds for a period of days, either raising or lowering the depths in the creek.
A sign on shore instructs you to complete a form and drop it off at the Visitors Center, a short walk up the street to the left on Main, to Carteret then to the right, to register for your stay. A maximum stay of 72 hours is requested to allow other boats to have the opportunity to tie here. There is no water or electric provided, however there are trash cans and a recycling bin at the top of the yard to the right near the road. Once you are registered, the town will provide you with a small map which shows the historic sites of interest and other information you might need.
We chose to spend our first full day in Bath touring the historic sites. The recently refurbished Palmer-Marsh House is directly across Main Street from the dock. The Van Der Veer House contains a museum and is just across the parking lot and around the corner from the Visitors Center on Harding Street. A short walk down Harding takes you to Craven and the St. Thomas Church, one of the oldest churches in the country, built in the early 1700s. The Bonner House, on the corner of Main and Front, has been lovingly maintained and continues to maintain its vigilant watch over the Bath Creek entrance from its hilltop perch. A pleasant surprise on the walk back to the dock was the Pirate’s Treasure gift shop, located in the two front rooms of a private residence on Main Street. The Christmas ornaments made from shells and starfish were too irresistible not to purchase a few.
We needed to mail some packages and top off our provisions with fresh produce. A ½ mile or so walk east on Carteret will bring you to the post office and a small ABC package store. A little farther along on the opposite side of the road brings you to the Country Kitchen, one of 2 sit-down restaurants in town, and the Bath General Store. The store had a small but fresh selection of fruits and vegetables and a surprising interesting selection of wine. The owner even asked if we would like a free bunch of overly ripe bananas with which to make bread. We accepted.
We had our usual ice cream hankering while in Bath and were able to fulfill the craving at a little store/marina, the Quarterdeck, at the bridge on Back Creek off of Bath Creek. The store sells ice cream, non-ethanol gas, grills food for all 3 meals and has a variety of marine and novelty items. If it’s warm enough outside, you can have your meal in one of the rocking chairs or picnic tables provided.
The next day left us wanting lunch after a hike over the bridge toward Washington and we choose to stop at Blackbeard’s Slices and Ices, very close to the State Dock, just next to the bridge. We can recommend them for tasty club sandwiches, burgers and fries.